An Angry Word On Film Literacy

Film has been called the major art form of the twentieth century.  Critics, governments and audiences alike in the passed eighty years have legitimized that statement.  And like all art forms, it really cannot be taught.  You may go to school like I did to study film, and that’s all very fine.  But all your instructors can do is supply you with the tools to read films, and to construct your own.  These two very basic principles are co-dependant upon one another.  If you cannot read a film, understand its narrative, visual illusions, historic place, cultural significance or critical worth to the medium on your own, then there is no chance that your own film will be any good.

That is a major problem today.  With television and online media filmic literacy has dropped tremendously.  If you are in the business of making films you are in the business of studying them.  Sure, these different mediums inform one another or barrow from one another, but no more so than film barrowed and continue to barrow from literature, painting and photography.  So it becomes essential that you watch films, all kinds from all places as much as possible.  You have to use the tools you paid for and your instructors gave you.  Chances are, if your films are bad, you’re simply not watching enough films.

This isn’t a call to cease watching television or YouTube.  I am simply asking that you make time for the cinema if that is a field in which you work.  If you don’t like subtitles or title cards, too bad, you have to watch those films as well.  If you decide not to, start looking for a new field to work in.

I will be the first to admit that I sound like snob up here on my soap box, but so what?  This is a major problem that is debilitating the field to which I have dedicated my life.  No one is making you read this anyway.  This is America, the most powerful country in the world.  If knowledge is power, it doesn’t look like we, as a nation will be all that powerful much longer.

-Robert Curry



Filed under Summer 2012

5 responses to “An Angry Word On Film Literacy

  1. Thanks for your blog post. I agree with you about the importance of film literacy. I believe it’s a skill that should be a part of mainstream education in K-12. What about you? Do you think it should be something included in K-12 or do you believe that it is more important for filmmakers?

    • It’s important, yes. As the most popular art form in the world, it is most essential in the education of anyone who doesn’t want to go about their life in blind ignorance. So though it is essential to filmmakers, it is also a requirement to forming a well rounded world view. Sadly, film will never be a serious course in public schools.

      • It’s great to see that there are filmmakers and people out there who are passionate about film and see the need for film education. I’m curious as to why you think it will never be a serious course in public schools. One of the things I’m doing is to bring film analysis into the schools so I’m very interested in your perspective. Thanks again for the blog post!

  2. Well, traditionally, at least in PA, the arts are last priority at public schools. But there is also the matter of interest. Personally, a number of people I know who work in film do not prioritize film studies. They are more than content to get by without criticism or underground/international films. It just doesn’t seem to interest very many people. Ironically, the people I do know who want to learn or analyze films are working in fields outside of film. That makes me hopeful in some respects. But if this generation of film artists doesn’t care about analyzing or seeking out films on there own, what hope is there? I think it would be amazing if schools offered a focus in film, but I just don’t see it happening here in PA anytime soon. Luckily, there are small non-profit groups dedicated to amending this. At the Cinematheque Internationale of Philadelphia where I volunteer as a programmer, we get a nice sized audience of people who are very engaged in expanding their understanding of the cinematic vernacular. So it’s undeniable a change is going on, it just doesn’t seem to be in the classroom. However, I wish you the best of luck, every little bit helps!

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